The first batch of tourists from Taiwan numbering 153 passengers arrived on Guam Tuesday aboard an Eva Air charter flight.
It was Guam’s first direct flight from Taiwan in more than a year and a half and Guam officials pulled out all the stops to welcome the Taiwanese visitors.
According to Guam Visitors Bureau president Carl Gutierrez, officials and personnel from GVB, the Guam International Airport Authority, and Guam Customs and Quarantine all helped greet not just the first batch of Taiwanese tourists, but the first big batch of tourists to enter Guam since the COVID-19 lockdown began.
“The plane landed on time. Everyone was clapping and cheering the arriving passengers. And even the passengers themselves were clapping,” Gutierrez told PNC.
GVB provided complimentary bottled water and hand sanitizers to the incoming Taiwanese passengers as they made their way from immigration to the Department of Public Health and Social Services (DPHSS) checkpoint. Passengers were also greeted with live CHamoru music by Ruby Santos and Jesse Bais.
“The immigration lines moved at record speed. Public Health clearance was phenomenal and Customs was as usual extremely fast and dished out polite smiles. The only minor delay was luggage coming down the carousel. But all in all, it was a great beginning of the comeback of tourists thanks to everyone following orders from Governor Lou,” Gutierrez said.
He added: “This is just the beginning of the revival of Guam’s number one industry. I would like to thank Governor Lou Leon Guerrero for supporting the Air V&V program, which gives visitors the opportunity to get vaccinated and also experience our Håfa Adai spirit.”
Governor Lou Leon Guerrero recently relaxed the island’s quarantine restrictions, allowing entry for fully vaccinated travelers and those who tested negative for COVID 72 hours before traveling to Guam.
The island’s tourism industry welcomed the easing of quarantine restrictions, saying this would enable businesses to offer clearer and more detailed travel packages to the island’s tourism markets.
The easing of the quarantine restrictions has also paved the way for GVB’s vaccine tourism program.
The program — dubbed “Air V&V” (for vaccine and vacation) — originally targeted US expatriates in the region who would like to get access to FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines. With Guam being one of the few places in the region where these US vaccines are available, many expatriates had already traveled to Guam to get vaccinated.
Since that time, GVB’s vaccine tourism program has been expanded to cater to not just US expats but non-US citizens as well.
According to Gutierrez, the Taiwanese visitors are all here for GVB’s vaccine tourism program.
Taiwan is reportedly suffering from a shortage of vaccines and out of the FDA-approved vaccines, only the Moderna vaccine was available in that country.
According to Taiwan’s health ministry, it has vaccinated just 9 percent of its population so far out of 23.5 million people.
In Guam, Taiwanese vaccine tourists will be able to avail themselves of the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
More Taiwanese visitors coming
Gutierrez said this is just the first batch of Taiwanese tourists coming to Guam and there will be more.
This is confirmed by reports coming out of Taiwan media.
Focus Taiwan CNA English News is reporting that a big Taiwanese travel agency is planning to offer a five-day-four-night holiday to Guam for vaccine tourism.
Yu Kuo-chen, a spokesperson for Lion Travel, one of Taiwan’s largest travel agencies, is quoted as saying that the company is discussing the possibility of direct flights between Taiwan and Guam with airlines.
According to Lion Travel, unlike a visit to the U.S. mainland, Taiwan passport holders can visit Guam without the need for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization.
CNA also quoted industry players as saying that Guam’s “vaccine tourism” provides several advantages for Taiwanese travelers, such as a relatively short flight time, low fare, a safe environment, and a short length of stay.
In addition, one entire company even wants to charter a flight and take its whole staff to Guam for COVID-19 vaccination.
According to Taiwan News, giant Taiwanese memory and storage manufacturer ADATA plans to fund each employee US$3,500 to go on a chartered trip to Guam and get vaccinated.
ADATA is a publicly listed Taiwanese manufacturer. In 2017, ADATA was the second-largest DRAM module manufacturer in the world and had a market capitalization of US$680 million.
Quoting an article from the Central News Agency, Taiwan News reported that each ADATA employee would contribute an estimated $1,000 out of their own pocket for the July 18-22 trip.
The EVA Air charter that arrived on Guam Tuesday afternoon, an Airbus A321-200, is just one of several flights that are coordinated by various Taiwan travel agencies, such as Lion Travel and Phoenix Tours.
More than 2,000 visitors from Taiwan are expected in the months of July and August.
“I want to recognize the great collaboration between the Guam Taiwan Office, EVA Air, and other travel trade partners in making this charter flight a success,” said GVB Director of Global Marketing Nadine Leon Guerrero. “We want to thank the Guam International Airport Authority, Guam Customs and Quarantine, Airport Police, and Public Health for their continued partnership in welcoming visitors to our beautiful island.”
Gutierrez has long been an advocate of increased tourism, trade, investment, education, and medical ties between Guam and Taiwan. The former governor is in close and constant contact with the Taiwan government and the TECO office here.
Taiwan was one of the first countries that GVB wanted to have a travel bubble with last year because of all Guam’s tourism markets, Taiwan had the lowest number of COVID-19 infections and it had the best systems in place to contain the virus.
Taiwan was seen as most likely the first market that can provide tourists to Guam because before its latest COVID spike, it had not been too adversely affected by COVID-19 and it early on established protocols that protected it from COVID-19, drawing from its lessons from the SARS epidemic.
Taiwan was also one of Guam’s regular sources of tourists before the pandemic hit.
Gutierrez said the Guam International Airport Authority and the Guam Economic Development Authority are joining GVB in looking at ways by which stronger economic ties with Taiwan can be attained.
Governor Lou Leon Guerrero herself was supposed to lead a trade, tourism, and investment delegation to Taiwan. That has since been postponed but not entirely canceled and GVB says that the visit may push through later this year or next year.
According to Gutierrez, the Taiwanese people are especially itching to travel abroad again, especially to Guam, which is just about four hours away.
“Taiwanese tourists are eager to travel to Guam because of their love for the island’s clear, blue waters. Taiwan is really looking to have their people flying somewhere because they’re kind of amped up. And Guam is one of the best places where they can travel, with our very low CAR score and our high vaccination rate,” the GVB president said.
GVB said in earlier board meetings that Taiwanese carriers EVA Air and China Airlines are ready to transport tourists to Guam.
A new Taiwanese carrier, Starlux Airlines, has also applied to service the Taiwan-Guam route.
“Thanks to GVB’s professionals and the great marketing of Air V&V, hope is in the air. People will start working and businesses will begin to open up because seeing is believing,” Gutierrez concluded.